Why Muslims are mourning

The events of 15th March 2019, where 50 innocent men, women and children were murdered in cold blood will go down as one of New Zealand’s darkest days. Like all terrorist attacks of this calibre we go through extreme emotions of shock, anger, sadness and grief. Over whelming grief. Yes we are a community in mourning. Why has this particular terrorist attack shaken us to our core? Let me explain.

Muslims are mistreated and killed day in, day out because of war and terrorism. Whether in Kashmir, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Myanmar, or China  we endure it. Sometimes they also die in mosques. We feel sadness, me may donate money or sign a few petitions. We say prayers for the victims. We do what we can sitting in lands far away. But this grief, following New Zealand, is new and it’s raw and I’m trying to work out why.

It seems that most non-Muslims on Facebook and Instagram are not affected by it like Muslims are. This may seem unfair but the fact that very, very few non-Muslims in the public eye and just regular people in Britain have shared anything about the New Zealand terror attack, really hurts. Words matter, and support through a difficult time is always appreciated. The notion that ‘now they know how we feel’ which I’ve seen in comments under many posts is not as hurtful as those people simply not acknowledging it. Even Facebook hasn’t offered me a filter for my profile photo or a flag, like they did for the Manchester or Paris attacks. 

Please don’t think for a minute that Muslims are immune to terror attacks. Don’t for a minute think this is a first for the Muslim community. Don’t for a minute think that the ‘shoe is on the other foot’. No. According to the Stop the War coalition, the US led war on terror has killed two million Muslims since 9/11. That’s right two million, so don’t for one moment think that Muslims don’t know about death.

When 7/7 happened and 52 people were killed on the London Underground we were upset and angry as much as anybody else. Remember Muslims die in all terror attacks in non-Muslim lands. We are not exempt. We go to concerts, we use public transport so we are a target too. But in this case we were targeted exclusively. Like the nine black Christian worshippers in Charleston, South Carolina, these people were murdered whilst praying. When we’re praying we are vulnerable and detached from our surroundings. To target a group of worshippers is so cowardly and so personal to me. My husband and son go to Friday prayers. It’s such a normal thing to do. One of the victims, fourteen year old Sayyad even looks like my son. So yes it’s personal and yes I feel it. And I know the majority of Muslims who live outside of Muslim countries feel the same.

The truth is Muslims are battered from every angle. Whether it’s from groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda or from white supremacists, we are in the firing line every time. And if not a target for violence we are spoken about on social media like a worthless community. Too long the media with their inflammatory headlines have gotten away with demonising an entire religion and it’s followers.

Many young Muslims, born in the era of post 9/11 have felt victimised, experienced racism and anti-muslim hatred all their lives. With headlines like ‘Muslim schools ban our culture’ to ‘Muslim plot to kill the pope’, is there any wonder why some of the general public fear and dislike Muslims? These headlines are fuelling white supremacists and legitimising Islamophobia. According to the Cambridge University Press “For every one moderate Muslim mentioned, 21 examples of extremist Muslims are mentioned in the British press”.

Says it all really, and if you want to see the hatred from the comfort of your home then you just have to go on to a tabloid newspaper’s Facebook page under any article to do with Muslims and you will see it clearly. You only have to go on Twitter to see how many proud ‘Islamophobes’ there are who put in their bio that they are Islamophobic, and this is their main purpose and what their tweets are mainly about.

Thankfully I’ve also found solitude in Twitter where so many tweets from non-Muslims have shown me that people do care and there are many who realise the subliminal anti-Muslim sentiment that some of the press has been espousing. Whilst it is being acknowledged, things need to change. It’s time that not just Muslims, but others call out the anti-Muslim sentiment that is present in our society today. Because there hasn’t been the Facebook and Instagram outcry that usually follows a large-scale terror attack, extremists have been inspired to attack Muslims in London and one outside a mosque. It’s time to stand up to anti-Muslim rhetoric and treat it in the same manner as other types of hate speech. Don’t let it go unquestioned, don’t ignore it, because people need to be held accountable for their words. 

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Most of you will be aware that the British Government is trying to pass a new anti-terrorism bill, which really is a slap in the face of ‘freedom of speech’ and everything else the mainstream media have been shouting about post-Paris shootings. The freedom to express our thoughts and the freedom to criticise and question the Government and their foreign policies is a key part of our British values. However the Counter-terrorism and Security Bill (CTSB) proposes quite the opposite. In response to the number of Brits joining ISIS, these are the main points of the proposed bill: (taken from iengage.com)

  • Police officers or border officials able to seize passports for up to 14 days (with renewal up to 30 days via Magistrates’ court) 
  • Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEOs) that can ban a British citizen from entering the UK for up to 2 years and leave them effectively stateless during that time 
  • Relocation of 200 miles enforced on individuals subject to TPIMs raising concerns about mental health and family life
  • Government seeking power to intercept communications raising grave privacy concerns
  • Airlines and carriers forced to adopt ‘authority to carry’ scheme which can effectively enforce ‘no fly’ lists on entire nationalities 
  • ‘Prevent’ to become a statutory requirement in Councils, schools, universities and more 
  • Universities required to operate an ‘extremist’ speakers policy 

Whilst some of these proposals may seem acceptable in the light of characters like Jihadi John the worry is that the wrong people will be targeted. We have seen this time and time again, just looking at some of the prisoners who have and have not been released from Guantanamo Bay and the number of innocent Muslims whose homes have been targeted by terror raids. Frankly I have little faith in our Government or the secret service to be able to differentiate between a religious Muslim and a violent extremist Muslim. And of course then we come back to the same question ‘How do you define extremism?’. Ask ten different people and they will give ten different answers.

It scares the hell out of me to think one woman Theresa May, and further down the road we could have a UKIP Home Secretary, could have the power to implement such divisive policies which are so vague, open to interpretation and could be easily misused. My definition of what constitutes extremism will be different from even my parents’ definition for example. This excellent article summarises the possible consequences and what murky road Britain may be heading down  You can write to your MP and ask him/her to vote against this bill in its current form by clicking here.

Also this week the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles sent a letter to over a 1000 mosques and Islamic organisations, asking them in a nutshell to catch extremists. This obviously annoyed many Muslim leaders and Imams who have been working incredibly hard over the last 10 years to flush out hate preachers and extremist interpretations of Islamic literature. Not only was the letter patronising it was pointless and badly timed. While Muslims are still reeling after the Charlie Hebdo incident, this is the last thing they need. I think the Government needs to get real. Mosques do not radicalise young people anymore. The Internet and social media plays a much bigger part. Chances are if you go to the mosque regularly, or to an Islamic school you will not be taught violence extremism. You will be taught everything but that. However if you leave your Islamic education to the Internet then you can be influenced by anyone from anywhere in the world. My advice to young Muslims would be to go an seek knowledge from mosques, from Islamic books and not from ISIS videos.

To end I will leave you with a story from The Daily Star. In France, the same country that champions freedom of speech and expression, banned a couple from naming their child ‘Nutella’ today. So much for freedom of expression eh?

Charlie Hebdo — Clarifications and Questions

It’s been an incredibly stressful week for Muslims around the globe. The horrific shootings that took place in Paris last week seem to have dominated the news agenda. Despite 2000 people being killed in Nigeria, and Muslims killed and driven out of their homes in CAR, the 17 lives lost in Paris seems to be what everyone wants to talk about. When I say everyone I mean non-Muslims. Muslims are pretty fed up of the hypocrisy, Mehdi Hasan sums it up pretty well in his piece this week. The backlash since the shootings has been extortionate. From mosques being vandalised in France to people like Rupert Murdoch (perhaps one of the most powerful people in the world) stating Muslims are collectively responsible — Muslims are really feeling the brunt of this. We’ve heard condemnations from many Muslim scholars and organisations but what does it all mean and what are we really thinking? Here are some clarifications that I feel need stating.

  1. Murder is a sin. It is haram (not permitted) in Islam. Blasphemy is a punishable crime in Islam. But the punishment can only be carried out within a legitimate Islamic state, after a fair trial has taken place and only then by the appointed executioner. The shootings were unislamic on so many level. For a start France is not a Muslim country nor does it have Islamic laws. Secondly a normal citizen is not under any circumstance permitted to go and murder people they believe have committed blasphemy. I hope I’ve cleared that up? So if you hear Muslims condoning the shootings then they are ignorant of Islamic teachings and have let their emotions run away with them.
  2. Just because I think Charlie Hebdo is a blasphemous publication, doesn’t mean I want the writers/cartoonists dead. I hate the rubbish that Charlie Hebdo print in the name of satire. I AM NOT Charlie. For me Charlie Hebdo represents racism, Islamaphobia, anti-semitism and vulgarity. 
  3. The Prophet Muhammad NEVER responded with violence to anyone who hurled abuse at him verbally or physically. Examples of how he dealt with haters are can be found here.
  4. Depictions of any prophet of Islam are not looked at favourably. I have blogged about the reasons why. To explain further, the Prophet Muhammad is as important to us as a parent. He is our role model, we emulate him and live our lives by following the Quran and using his examples as our moral compass. He was kind, humble, patient and tolerant. From how to eat to how to pray, his example dictates a Muslim’s daily activity. To then go and insult, make crude jokes about him, you can begin to see why Muslims would get upset. Upset, frustrated and provoked are some of the feelings you would feel if somebody kept mocking and insulting your loved one over and over again. Out of 1.8 billion Muslim some will lose their mind and commit violence. Not justified but it should explain why we get so upset. Also note not all Muslims care, some do and some don’t. We are a diverse bunch. The cover of Charlie Hebdo after the shootings showing an upset Prophet Muhammad stating ‘you are forgiven’ and ‘I am Charlie’ didn’t offend me. The actual depiction may offend some people — the image shows Prophet Mohammad with beady eyes and a big nose. Not flattering but then caricatures never are.
  5. There is no such thing as true freedom of speech or expression. In Germany, it is a crime to deny the holocaust, in France pro-Palestinian marches were banned this year after so many Palestinians were killed by Israel, and in the UK a man was convicted for burning a poppy. There are many examples. Many things are distasteful and offensive and editors make decisions every day about what they should print and what they shouldn’t. They don’t want to offend anybody deliberately, which leads to my next point. 
  6. We are British, and the one thing British people don’t like doing is offending. We maintain a stiff upper lip if we don’t like anything. That’s not to say we should always be politically correct, but be mindful of people’s sensibilities. Why is that such a bad thing? Why should we seek out to offend a minority? What is one going to gain out of it? It’s not British and it’s not clever. Perhaps the French don’t have this in their culture? This is not a curtailment of freedom of speech. As journalist and novelist Will Self said on Newsnight — ‘Freedom of speech is a right, and with every right comes responsibility.’ Absolutely spot on, just because we are allowed to make disgusting jokes about somebody, does that mean we should just for the sake of it, without thinking about how it will affect thousands of people?
  7. The media has really whipped up a frenzy with the continuing news coverage of the Paris shootings. Giving attention to terrorists is what they want and we are giving them exactly that. Who were the killers? Were they just evil men who hated the West or was it more to it then that? Finding out what drove them to commit such a dreadful act is important and relevant. Writing them off as evil enemies of freedom is not helpful. The root cause of their actions must be examined. Their background and their upbringing all count.
  8. Stop asking Muslims to apologise. The more you ask ordinary Muslims to apologise the more cheesed off they’re going to get. Christians weren’t asked to apologise for Christian fundamentalist Anders Breivik who killed 77 people so why the double standard? The impression I’ve got over the years is that if I don’t say anything as a Muslim it means that I condone it. Where does this logic come from and why does it apply to Muslim crimes only? 

I’m going to leave it there for now and hope to have a weekend free from terrorism talk. More next week!

    Halal Wine Anyone?

    When I was growing up my parents always taught me, that we, as Muslims don’t drink alcohol. It was very simple and on my part completely unquestionable. I didn’t ask why, I just did as I was told. It was completely unthinkable that I would ever have a glass of wine. I didn’t even want to, not once have I ever felt ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out). The way I see it, many problems can stem from alcohol abuse-domestic violence, liver damage, and binge drinking to name a few. So why pick up that first drink? I have no problem with people drinking around me, its just personally I choose not to.

    Click here to read more…

    What does it mean to be British?

    It’s a tough question, and one that’s been on the news agenda for a while now. Before the attacks that took place on 7/7, I had never thought about this question. Recently though, with a stream of programs designed to challenge the idea of ‘Britishness’, the question is in the public arena.

    I’ve always referred to myself as a British Muslim, there’s nothing else I can be. I was born in England, my country defines me just the way my faith does. My ethnicity is Pakistani, so of course this influences a lot of the more trivial things, like types of clothes, cooking, music etc.
    The way I think, the way I speak is all because I’ve been brought up in this country but within the framework of Islam. My faith has grounded me with a strong moral compass and what I’ve realised is in the last few years is that being British is very close to Islam. When Damon said this in ‘Make Bradford British’ last night on channel 4, it was even more apparent. Being British is not about getting drunk and going out on the pull on a Friday night. Being British to me means family, community, charity, etiquettes and manners. Damon, who is your typical English lad from Bradford, said Islam is very similar to the British values his grandparents used to tell him about. Like in every society there are negatives, and unfortunately the fact that the culture of binge drinking and promiscuity is normal shouldn’t cast a shadow on all the good things in British society.

    When I first met my husband I thought he was a ‘coconut’. This is a word used by Asians to describe people who aren’t in touch with their Asian roots-brown on the outside, white on the inside. As I got to know him I realised that he may not be very ‘Pakistani’ but he has all the traits that a good Muslim should have, and these are also very English traits. Being generous, charitable, honest and compassionate are more important in Islam than having a beard or the length of your trousers or how many times you go to the mosque. Something that a lot of Muslims seem to forget, sadly.

    A lot of Muslims have felt distant and segregated from the rest of society, since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The concept of brotherhood and unity is a strong one in Islam. Every Muslim is your brother and sister, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. When my country Britain invades Muslim countries on a false premise, it hurts. When civilians die, it really hurts, regardless of them being Muslim or not. Nick Clegg said this week, being in Afghanistan is safer for us and is safer for the Afghans. But not for those six soldiers who were killed. We still don’t know what they died for, what any of the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis have died for. Wasn’t the war initially to find Osama? It then turned into a mission to liberate the Afghan people. The same happened in Iraq, went in for one reason, and then the agenda changed to suit political needs. All this makes a lot of people angry, not just Muslims. But it’s things like this that have created barriers between Muslims and non-Muslims. I’m not saying that barriers didn’t exist before but I feel it more now, and that’s a sad thing.
    A Muslim criticising foreign policy does not make them any less British than anyone else who disagrees with it. I love Islam and I love Britain, and it’s completely possible to do this, as they ARE both fully compatible.

    What is integration?

    After watching channel 4’s documentary ‘Proud and Prejudiced’, I’m forced to think about this question yet again. The documentary started off light heartedly but got increasingly painful to watch as it went along. Tommy Robinson (leader of the English Defence League) showed his true colours when slightly drunk, mouthing off and displaying what a thug he really is.

    The 9/11 anniversary demonstration by Muslims Against Crusades was cringe worthy. Even though his message wasn’t too fanatical his timing was appalling. Obviously intentional, but going on about how he’s not going to cry at 9/11 victims because of the thousands of Muslims dead in subsequent wars is not productive and is just going to generate anger and more hate towards him and all Muslims. I agree that every time 9/11 is remembered so should all the innocent civilians killed in Iraq and Afganistan consequently, as these wars were in retaliation for 9/11. I don’t think my view is extreme but if I stood shouting it in public on the anniversary then it would be deemed so. He also said ‘we love death not life’. Well actually as Muslims we are not told to love death but we are told not to fear death, only fear God. We are definitely not told to want or prefer death to living in this world. It’s small things like this that groups like the Muslims Against Crusades (who are now banned) misinterpret and use in their rhetoric. All they want is attention, and most of the media are happy to give it to them. As for Shariah law, it can only be enforced in Muslim states or majority Muslim states and only then should Muslims advocate it and fight for it. 2 million out of 57 million is by no means legitimate ground to evoke Shariah law.

     However some of Tommy Robinson’s sentiments, I can understand to a degree, as he bases his opinion of Muslims on what he sees in Luton. I’ve not spent much time in Luton but it’s obvious to see that in areas like Bury Park, the Muslim community do behave in a very insular manner. But why does that annoy him? He says integration is not about working together or hanging out together it’s about ‘making babies’. Does he really want Muslims in his family? He claims Muslims don’t have babies with Muslims unless they convert. Although this isn’t really true, as lots of interfaith marriages take place, Muslims do prefer to marry within the faith. The main reason for this is pretty obvious. Islam is a way of life, to be a practicing Muslim you have to pray every day, you have to fast for 30 days a year, there are a number of sunnats (things the Prophet Muhammad used to do) that you should adhere to. For a non-Muslim, it’s very hard to live a Muslim lifestyle if you don’t belong to the faith. But despite this many Muslims do marry non-Muslims.

    Tommy Robinson claims integration is not about working and socialising together. I completely disagree. Muslims across the country work peacefully and happily with non-Muslims, in all kinds of jobs – of course this is integration. Socialising can be harder, not because Muslims don’t want to speak to white people but because of cultural reasons. Pub, bars and clubs are generally off limits for Muslims as we are not permitted to drink. Those who drink or are ok with drinking 5 glasses of orange juice, freely go to these places and mix. If you don’t drink in this country the options left are limited. Non-Muslims who are tee total are generally viewed as strange. When I was growing up it wasn’t too bad, everyone was very understanding and accepting towards the fact that I chose not to drink. Nowadays with the culture of binge drinking it may be more ‘abnormal’ than when I was growing up. My point is, most British past times involve alcohol and  this is one reason why some Muslims prefer to spend their time with other non-drinkers.

    Family life plays a heavy role in Muslim culture and young Muslims are encouraged to maintain ties with all family members, however distant the relative. This doesn’t mean we don’t want to integrate with the rest of society, it just means family comes first, and that’s hardly an alien concept.

    To summarise, most Muslims integrate as much they can. I accept there are many communities like the one in Luton that are apparently completely isolated from the rest of society. Things like learning and speaking English should be encouraged within all ethnic minorities who live here. Speaking to non-Muslims should be a priority, as it’s because of this isolation that groups like the EDL exist. Effort needs to made from all communities to talk to each other and understand each other. I love this country and all it’s different colours, it’s something to celebrate, not something to be frightened of.

    9/11 Ten Years On

    Everybody likes to recall what they were doing on 9/11. It is a day in history that has truly changed the world. If you can’t remember what you were doing that day, you may as well have been living on Mars.
    I have spent the last ten years going through a whirlwind of emotions. From shock, to guilt, to denial, to sadness.
    I’ll be honest, the day the hijackers flew the planes into the twin towers in New York city, I remember a few people, chuckling. Not realising the severity of the attack, some Muslims were secretly smug about the fact that the Americans have been attacked on their own soil. It was nothing to do with Islam the fact that they felt this, it was because people felt that it was about time America experiences some destruction too, given what some of the Muslim world had been going through. The next few days following on from 9/11, nobody was smiling, as the death toll went into thousands. If anybody knew that so many people would die, I don’t think those initial feelings would have come into play. I don’t think even the hijackers anticipated such success. The fact that Muslims were being blamed for this attack as a whole rather than a few loopy extremists was hard to bear, and still is.

    Since then, Muslims have been trying hard to separate themselves from the ideology that breeds these terrorists. Because the fact is, it is a minority who have these ‘extreme’ thoughts. The Muslim world is over 1 billion strong, how can it possibly be blamed for the action of nineteen so-called Muslims?
    Since 9/11 the growth in groups of ‘Islamists’, ‘Muslim extremisms’, ‘Jihadis’, call them what you like, has increased enormously. This growth can only be attributed to the resulted action taken after 9/11. The ‘War on Terror’ was detrimental to Muslim civil society. It might have been called the ‘War on Islam’, that’s what it certainly felt like. Attacking Afghanistan and Iraq has been the cause of much of the terrorism carried out in the name of Islam since 9/11. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, and understanding why 9/11 happened, America lead by George W Bush undertook a war which has caused more fatalities than the event it was being avenged for. In the search for Osama Bin Laden, the war in Afghanistan then became an operation to ‘liberate’ Afghans. Following on from that Iraq was invaded based on fabricated intelligence stating it was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Then it was to remove Saddam Hussain, and then the cause became ‘liberating’ Iraqis. The American government talks about it’s successes in both regions. What an insult to the families of those soldiers who have lost their lives. What a slap in the face on the thousands of Iraqis who have lost their family members. Children and women, no one has been spared. Just the amount of depleted uranium shells lying around caused by the Gulf War and the current Iraqi war has left a generation of Iraqis with deformities and disabilities. The worst thing is that Muslims are being killed by other (so-called) Muslims in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Pakistan, who had little to do with anything has lost thousands of civilians from bomb blasts, suicide bombings and drone attacks from America. Are you with us, or against us? This was the impossible question that Pakistan had to answer. By being ‘with’ America, Pakistan has suffered such loss and destruction, and created a breeding ground for terrorists. Terrorists who want to destroy their own country and kill their fellow citizens. In Islam it is not permitted to kill anyone let alone another Muslim. So how do these terrorists, commit these acts in the name of Islam? Many have little choice. Many young men are drawn into these groups because they are poor and have no other aspirations in life. Similar to gang culture amongst black youth in London, joining an extremist group gives young men a sense of belonging, rebellion and averting their energy into something they think is positive. Of course they are not sold the ideology of violence as an extreme ideology. They are sold it as ‘jihad’. ‘Jihad’ meaning ‘struggle’ and not holy war, which is often how it is translated. It is certainly true that all Muslims are obliged to perform Jihad. I.e. they are asked to ‘struggle’ to become a good Muslim, to spread the word of God by doing good deeds. Sometimes that means rising against oppression and injustice. This is what the recruiters of these groups use to brainwash young men. That and a promise of entrance to heaven and of course those blasted virgins that we hear about so much. And if they actually go the whole hog, and blow themselves up, they are often promised that their family who are left behind will be rewarded money and safety afterwards. This perhaps is the biggest incentive for suicide bombers, rather than those virgins or hatred for the West. There were no such thing as suicide bombings in Pakistan prior to 9/11. Those people who talk about success, and how everything has been worth it because Osama Bin Laden is dead, are severely detached from reality. Osama Bin Laden is one man, and what he’s left behind is a warped ideology that only the desperate and bored share and want to be a part of. We’ve seen from the Arab spring, that change can come in the Arab world in the form of peaceful protest from the people themselves. Unfortunately this has also lead to yet another invasion led by NATO into Libya, freeing the Libyans from Gaddaffi. What this invasion will turn into, only time will tell.

    All I want to say today is, that the harm that 9/11 has caused to Islam is immense and irreversible. Today we shouldn’t just mourn the tragedy of losing 3000 or so lives in New York, but also the thousands of lives lost as a consequence of military action as reprisal for 9/11. I hope God guides these terrorists who think they are doing God’s work, but are infact tarnishing Islam and making ordinary Muslim’s lives difficult. I pray that America thinks hard about their foreign policies, because at this rate the future is looking very bleak.